Solidoodle2 First impressions

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Solidoodle2 First impressions Barry Schuler 9/18/12 12:15 AM
I received the Solidoodle2 professional edition last week (against an order date of mid April).

The device arrived wrapped in plastic and packed with peanuts - no visible damage.

As a side note - I am an experienced 3D printing hobbyist with Makerbot Cupcake, ToM, and dual headed Replicator and a 3D Systems 3D Touch (Dual Headed)..

I downloaded Pronterface and its associated files as instructed.  It quickly became apparent that Pronterface is very crude and not up to the task of reasonable workflow.  However I persisted in using it to check out the machine get it calibrated and printing.

Initial check-out of all of the functions revealed a problem with the X-Axis motor working intermittently.  A couple of hours of diagnosis with the help of a sidekick who recently got a Solidoodle up and running revealed a broken connector to the controller board.  After fabricating a new connector the problem was solved and the system checked out.

With the help of the various threads in this group and the great work of Ian Johnson on his Solidoodle Tips Blog I quickly decided to drive the system by Repetier and to re-flash the controller with it's companion firmware.  Repetier is a very capable program with a good UI, much more akin to ReplicatorG.  No offense to the Solidoodle team but they are paddling upstream with Pronterface and would serve their users better with good configuration files for RepG and Repetier.

With Repetier communicating well we could get on with the business of calibrating the system.  Unlike the pricier machines there are no calibration routines to tweak Z offset and level the build surface, but in fairness the system arrived pretty well dialed in.  The system was able to print immediately, but the build quality was just ok.  Leveling and getting the head tighter to the build surface did the trick.

Overall I am impressed with the smoothness of the mechanics and have easily gotten layer heights to .24 mm - my "goto" height. (note this does take some fiddling with Skeinforge to get clean prints).

The system's biggest design flaw is the filament path.  There is a PVC spindle on the rear of the unit (to hold the filament spool - not included) and a hole in the backplate meant to thread the filament to the extruder head.  It just doesn't work. There just is not a smooth path so the filament hangs versus freespooling during the print process.  The system comes with a metal enclosure, hence the hole in the back, but you might as well take off the enclosure and use it as a mini coffee table since the filament needs to come over the top directly into the extruder head. Ideally the spool should be mounted above the system so it moves downward.  I guess you could drill a hole through the top of the cover but there is not a lot of headroom between the cover and the extruder head so it would seem the filament would get hung up as it traverses its toolpaths.  I am sure the community will devise many mods to this problem.

With a few days of printing ABS behind, the next step will be to attempt to switch to PLA.  I have come to much prefer PLA for most applications since there are no sticking, warping or cracking issues. Plus you don't need to heat the platform. BUT PLA has it's own unique petulance to deal with.  Solidoodle claims the have not yet determined reliable settings for PLA, however there is no reason why it shouldn't work.

My quick conclusion is that Solidoodle can be a very capable printer for the price, however it is not close to being for beginners in its current state.  I recommend ditching Pronterface for Repetier if you are comfortable flashing firmware.  And hopefully someone will finish the work to configure RepG, which would also be a great option to drive the system.  With a solid driver program you should be able to make to your heart's delight.

Happy layers.

Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Steve R 9/18/12 8:47 AM


In todays market where do you think is the best place for someone new to 3D printing to start in terms of hardware and software? What printers should they consider? What websites/blogs should they read?

What should they do when they first get a printer? Where do they learn how to tweak and calibrate the printer and use Pronterface and Skeinforge? 

Once you learn how to 're-flash the controller' can the Solidoodle only be used with Repetier or can you still use it with Pronterface?

 If Repetier is a much better solution, and experienced 3D printers have worked out how to use Repetier with
a Solidoodle, then why doesn't the company make this approach standard so it is easier for people new to 3D printing to get started using their product? 

Do you recommend that new people figure out how to get their Solidoodle's working with Repetier when they are first starting or should they try out Pronterface first?

Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Robert Tillsley 9/18/12 5:07 PM
I also wonder whether the quality control is ready for us beginners. How long would Barry's problem take for us to diagnose?

Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Barry Schuler 9/18/12 9:39 PM
Well Steve, these questions are akin to "what is the meaning of life?" (Only teasing)

It is important to step back and understand what the state-of-the-art of "Personal Manufacturing" is: very early.  It reminds me of Microcomputers circa 1978 (yes I am an aging Nerd). It is not close to plug and play and is very geeky But the pace of advancement is breathtaking.  A lot is happening fast.  It's the pioneering aspect of the space that is so attractive to most of the early adopters - we enjoy the journey as much as the reward.

In order to answer your questions it is important to know what kind of person you are:

Know how to code?
Hardware hacker (Arduino, robotics, mechanics)?
3D Modeler?
None of the above I just want to make stuff.

Along with this - Budget is the biggest consideration. It's not only an issue of how much you are willing to spend but will you accept that whatever you buy will be quickly outmoded, even faster than Apple does with iPhone every year. 

The world of 3D printing today is populated by just as many people who want to create new 3D printing technology as those who just want to make things.  So it is a world driven by engineering brains at the moment. Usability and stability are not key market factors.  But that must change if this technology is to ever get more mainstream.

What sites should you read?  There are many many and more pop up every week.  3Der is a clearing house of other sites and does a good job of compiling lists of all types. Thingiverse is the go-to spot for models and a very vibrant community. The community page on Makerbot site is very informative. B3dge has a great Twitter feed and there is a good 3D curation on And every system has their own group on Google like this one.  Also if you want to dive in and just try - go to TinkerCad make a model and you can ship it off to be printed by a service.

On the question of software, Pronterface etc.  Up to this point the workflow associated with creating and printing objects has been a real achilles heel.  Traditionally you have had to create a model with some 3D program (none of which are really optimized to 3D printing yet). Export the file in .stl format and hope it doesn't have holes or other imperfections that prevent it from printing. "Fixer" programs like NetFab help to properly "manifold" the model. Then it needs to be sliced into the layers that will be printed with a program like Skeinforge or Slic3r. These will need to be configured for your specific printer.  They turn your geometry into the GCode file which will tell your printer what to do. this is where the quality of the print will be determined.  Finally you can then start printing. I know this sounds awful but fortunately this mess is rapidly disappearing.  Makerbot's Replicator G has come a long way toward simplifying the process. I have also been impressed with my recent experience with Repetier. Very soon we will see all of this infrastructure disappear inside of well written software that should allow you to just print with a bit of  option setting.  The Cube printer from 3D systems promises such a plug-play-print solution however it is a closed proprietary system.They are trying to create the "Apple" of 3D printers, a true consumer solution. Whether they have read the market correctly remains to be seen. 3D Systems is the largest industrial 3D printer company, sort of IBM circa 1982.

Pronterface is easily 12-18 months behind the usability curve. It is too difficult for beginners and too clunky and featureless for experienced users, which is why I chose to ditch it for Solidoodle.  My humble opinion is that Solidoodle is priced for beginners but it isn't plug and play enough, not even close.  But they could easily solve the problem with good software because it actually is a solid little printer.

If you are not comfortable running a Python console you will have difficulty wading through Pronterface ( I'd use it just to make sure a new Solidoodle is functioning properly and then replace with Repetier and the accompanying firmware and never look back). Yes you could flash back to the original firmware and use Pronterface again but it's not something you would want to go back and forth on routinely.

You ask why Solidoodle doesn't use Replicator G or Repetier? I can only surmise that they want to create their own special user experience.  Also Solidoodle was founded by an early Makerbot employee so perhaps they want to express their individuality. I would strongly advise the Solidoodle team to ship with a good preconfigured version of Rep G because there is a lot of competition out there and Pronterface doesn't do their hardware justice.

What else to consider? I have had all of Makerbot's products and they have made incredible progress. Thing-O-Matic was very painful to build and run. Replicator was up and running in 10 minutes. I have run the Replicator almost everyday since it shipped earlier this year and it is pretty bullet-proof (for today's state of the art) although dual extrusion (printing two colors) does not work very well.  I suspect that many used Replicators will start showing up on ebay soon and should be reasonably priced.  In the mean time, many new printers are showing up - seemingly weekly. Eventorbot looks promising. But this list gives you an idea of what's out there.

Hope that helps a bit - if you have never been to one of the many Maker Faires I suggest you try to get to one.  You will see amazing things and get a real feel for what is going on.  Nothing is as good as hands-on.
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Barry Schuler 9/18/12 9:44 PM
Robert - you would have suffered.  It would have been very hard to diagnose.  Solidoodle's controller board and connectors just hang on the back of the frame without protection of an enclosure so I guess it is not surprising.  But when my friend and I figured it out we looked at each other and said "how would a normal person deal with this?"  Of course I say that about simple networking issues at home all the time ;-)
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Robert Tillsley 9/18/12 10:25 PM
Hi Barry

Thanks for clarifying that. It would help I suppose if my printer was shipped with the cover on it or if they do print and add a cover as a default. I'll probably do that as one of my first projects.


Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Lawsy 9/18/12 11:11 PM
The cover doesn't cover the electronics. Only a matter of time before some printable electronics covers appear on thingiverse. I certainly intend to design, print and post one soon.
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Robert Tillsley 9/18/12 11:54 PM
Hmm. Ok, I would have thought the cover would have covered the entire exterior. It's a shame we can't print and place on the cover before it is shipped to us. Stupid laws of physics.

I'll look out for your design.


Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Steve R 9/19/12 2:46 PM


Thanks for the info, it is great to get a few pointers from someone with your experience.

I have been heavily involved with electronics for a number of years. I have also done light programming in several languages. 

I am new to 3D printing and excited to get started. My approach to new things is to learn everything possible and not treat things as a 'black box'. I was hoping that Solidoodle would have a little more info on the several software packages that need to be installed. The info they have is sparse. I got a couple of interesting 3D printing books from Amazon and have been searching the web for more information so I can hit the ground running when my printer arrives. It sounds like there is a fair bit of tinkering that needs to be done to install and set up the software; I will probably get through that, but it would be nice it it came more ready to go. I do not have much experience on the mechanical side so some of the issues I have seen here concern me. Has anyone written a calibration or checkout routine that could be used to verify the mechanical system or identify parts that need to be 'tuned up'?

Portland, Oregon had its first 'Maker Faire' last weekend and there was a guy there with a Solidoodle so I got to see one in person. He had only done a few prints, but they looked fine. 
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Barry Schuler 9/19/12 4:05 PM
You will be fine Steve.  Software background is more important at the moment. The mechanical stuff is really straight forward, and frankly after fixing the broken connector and tweaking the calibration the Solidoodle has been printing very reliably for the last few days.  It's smooth and solid.  Dive in and have fun.
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions napanorton 9/19/12 9:40 PM
My experience is very similar. I am finding the printer to be very stable and repeatable - after you update the software/firmware. The only real issue was I had the extruder fan go out on mine after about a week. It looked like it was overtightened and caused the rotor of the fan to rub on the case which finally caused an open in the winding. I suppose due to the elevated temps, the filament was getting kinda soft. That lead to the extruder drive chewing up the filament and causing all sorts of jamming/feed issues. A new fan and some surgery, fixed it and it's been printing fine since. Again - how do normal folks figure this stuff out?
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Barry Schuler 9/20/12 7:51 AM
So Norton - what o you think of that fancy new Replicator2?
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Steve R 9/20/12 7:55 AM

What are good sources for the mechanical parts when they need replacing?

On Wednesday, September 19, 2012 9:40:51 PM UTC-7, napanorton wrote:
My experience is very similar. I am finding the printer to be very stable and repeatable - after you update the software/firmware. The only real issue was I had the extruder fan go out on mine after about a week. It looked like it was overtightened and caused the rotor of the fan to rub on the case which finally caused an open in the winding. I suppose due to the elevated temps, the filament was getting kinda soft. That lead to the extruder drive chewing up the filament and causing all sorts of jamming/feed issues. A new fan and some surgery, fixed it and it's been printing fine since. Again - how do normal folks figure this stuff out?
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Support Tech 9/20/12 8:00 AM
We do provide some mechanical parts in the event that a printer breaks.

Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Steve R 9/20/12 8:12 AM


What is the status of the software/firmware update?
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Support Tech 9/20/12 8:51 AM
It's coming along. I may have said this elsewhere, but we are postponing a bit to ensure a big release.

Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Steve R 9/20/12 9:09 AM


Sounds like a good idea, I am looking foreword to seeing what you have. Are you thinking it will be out in the first half of October?
Re: Solidoodle2 First impressions Barry Schuler 9/22/12 6:59 PM
Epilogue for now - 

System is dialed in and producing sold prints.  Pictured above is my new printer challenge model Dupin Cycloid - by @Dizingof SLiced well in Repetier and printed as shown at .20 layer height, 100% fill  0 shells.

Once you get Solidoodle going, it has real capabilities for an inexpensive printer.  Now to start testing with PLA.

On Tuesday, September 18, 2012 12:15:05 AM UTC-7, Barry Schuler wrote: